Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Abandoned Places: Orphanages

Orphanages are not buildings I can say I'm sorry to see closed down. Despite any good intentions ever ascribed to having them or opening them or whatever, I don't think you will find one in existence that doesn't have horrible stories associated with it. Which is not to say that I think it's better to leave kids to live on the streets; I don't believe that all. I do believe that when an orphanage can be shut down because a better system has been put in place it is a good thing. So...
Mostly, this will just be a series of photos of abandoned orphanages. There are too many stories to try to recap them, and they are all too similar too choose between. Let's just say that none of the stories are good, and many of the buildings are supposed to be haunted. You can imagine the rest.

This is St. John's in Goulburn in Australia:

This is the Greek orphanage in Buyukada, Turkey. It is one of the world's largest wooden buildings:

The Philadelphia Jewish Foster Home and Orphan Asylum (orphan asylum is such a curious and ominous word, don't you think?):
Photos courtesy of  Opacity.

A Kindersanitorium (another interesting term) in Germany:
Photos courtesy of  Opacity.

Newsham Park Hospital in England. Previously Liverpool Seaman's Orphan Institution. Now abandoned:

And I don't know what this one is. Evidently, I didn't save my links or didn't put them in the correct place.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Abandoned Places: North Brother Island and NIMH (a book review)

North Brother Island, situated in New York's East River, was unpopulated until 1885 when Riverside hospital, a smallpox hospital, was relocated there. Eventually, the hospital came to specialize in quarantinable diseases. Because of this, in 1907, Typhoid Mary was brought to the island. She stayed there until 1910 when she finally agreed to take safety precautions to prevent the spread of the typhoid bacteria she was carrying. Upon release, however, she quickly resumed her life as a cook and continued to spread typhoid fever, changing her name as she moved around each time people became infected because of her. As many as 50 deaths may be attributed to Mary. She was finally recaptured in 1915 and returned to North Brother Island where she lived for the remainder of her life, more than 20 years. Shortly after her death in 1938, the hospital was closed.

During the 1950s, a facility for the treatment of drug addicts was built on the island, but it failed to be successful and closed only a decade later.

The island is now closed to the public and is a bird sanctuary. Until 2008, the island was home to one of the largest colonies of Black-crowned Night Herons, but they have inexplicably also abandoned the island.

North Brother Island was also the home to New York's worst disaster in terms of life loss prior to the 9-11 when, in 1904, a passenger steamboat, the General Slocum, crashed and burned causing the deaths of over 1000 people.
Image by Jonathan Haeber and used under the linked license.
Note: The island contained more than just the hospital. It is the entire island that has been abandoned.
I think these photo credits are to Richard Nickel, Jr., but I was unable to verify that.

I wanted to also include Nara Dreamland, Japan's first amusement park. It was modeled after Disneyland and built in 1961. By the time it closed in 2006, it was virtually already abandoned due to lack of visitors. At any rate, I couldn't find pictures that I could verify were available for use, so here's a link instead.

Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH
Robert O'Brien

For being someone who doesn't frequently re-read, I've been doing a lot of that lately. But this one isn't my fault. Well, not exactly.

To say that my daughter is difficult is an understatement at best. She's a great kid, but she's a constant challenge. She likes to be busy. She's always planning ahead. And she rejects any and all book recommendations out of hand even though all of the books she loves (like Harry Potter) were suggested by my wife or me. I have to suggest a book many, many times before she's willing to give it a try. One of the things I've done to entice her is to suggest books that I read when I was her age and that I liked. One of the most successful of those suggestions was Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH.

I first read about the rats when I was about 10, and I remember really falling in love with the idea of a secret lab that made rats as smart as people. In fact, a bunch of us in my class all read the book around the same time, and I remember that there were many conversations centered around  those rats. I don't, now, remember any of those conversations, but I remember having them.

So, without telling her what the book is about, I told her how much I had liked the book when I was her age and suggested she read it, which she did. And she loved it. As soon as she finished reading it, she wanted to talk to me about the book, and I think she probably wanted to have those same kinds of conversations with me that I had with my friends when I was a kid. But that was 30-odd years ago, and I just couldn't remember enough about it to have a satisfying conversation with her. So she asked me to read it again. That was about a year ago, but I did finally manage to do it.

Before I go on, I do want to say that I think this a great book for kids in the 10-ish age range. And not a disenjoyable read for an adult, which may come off as more harsh than I mean it to sound, because I still did like the book. There's just a few things I didn't like about the book, too. They're things I don't like about it as an adult, though, not things that a middle schooler would be bothered by.

That said, the biggest issue I have with the book is that Mrs. Frisby, ostensibly the protagonist, is nearly superfluous. If the goal in writing a book is to create empathy for the main character, then O'Brien failed. Not that you don't care about Frisby, it's just that who you really care about are the rats. It's like O'Brien had this story about the rats but decided that either it was too long for a "kids' book" or too mature. Maybe both. So he took that story and inserted it into the Frisby bookends and just gave us the rats' story as background. The Mrs. Frisby bit isn't long enough to be a book and the rats' stuff is too long, so I wasn't really satisfied with either story. Not to mention how he leaves the story of the rats hanging at the end, because the story about Frisby was over, and he had no good way to continue on with the rats.

Also, in light of the rest of the book, Frisby is not a believable character for me. She is supposed to be a normal mouse, but he presents her, basically, at near the same level as the rats, who are supposed to be much smarter, possibly smarter than humans, so, basically, Frisby is just too smart for the world he has presented to us. And while I get that he needed her to be the way she was since we're seeing the story through her eyes, it doesn't really make sense within the confines of the story.

The other thing I found annoying was Frisby's convenient capture by Billy so that she could find out all the information that the rats needed. I mean, have you ever tried to catch a mouse? It's not like you can just sneak up on them.

Those things aside, though, it was still an enjoyable (and quick) read and, as I said, a great book for the 4-6th grade age range. Now, I just have to wait for my daughter to finish re-reading it (because the day after I started it, she was assigned the book in class!) so that we can finally have that talk about the Rats of NIMH and how cool they are. And, really, they are cool.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Abandoned Places: Maunsell Forts, Star Wars, and "The Magic Cookies"

The Maunsell Forts were both naval and army forts designed by Guy Maunsell. The naval forts (like the Knock John fort pictured below) were primarily used to spot German air raids and prevent them from laying mines in the Thames. Yes, they did that by plane. The forts were built in dry dock, floated out into the estuary, and sunk there. The army forts (like the Red Sands forts pictured above) were designed as anti-aircraft batteries and three were also located in the Thames estuary; the other three were in the Mersey estuary. The forts were responsible for shooting down 22 aircraft and 30 "flying bombs" (basically, an early version of the cruise missile and kind of fascinating). Though the forts were decommissioned in the 1950s, many of them still stand today.
Photo Credits for 3-6 to Wayne Barry under the linked license.

Some of the abandoned places I would most like to see are the abandoned Star Wars "on location" movie sets in Tunisia. Your probably wondering, now, why I'm mentioning this under "M" and not "S," but there's a simple explanation. Most of what you can actually go visit these days are the sets that were used as Mos Espa in The Phantom Menace. Some of these are actual ruins themselves:
This is Ksar (meaning castle) Hadada which was used for exterior shots of the slave quarters outside Mos Espa.
Here are some other abandoned sets from Mos Espa:
Mos Espa photo credits to John Roberts and used under the linked license.


And it's time for some magic cookies!
"The Magic Cookies" is a fun little, short story that always has people laughing when I've read out loud. Sure, the middle schoolers laugh unabashedly, but any adults have also always laughed in spite of trying not to. Just take my word for it; you want to read this. Besides, there's a grain of truth to this one. Okay, maybe more than a grain. Hey, it's not even a $1.00.
Plus! You get a bonus vampire story from Briane Pagel! How can you lose?
Also, the cover was designed and made by one of my creative writing students. He's in 8th grade. Didn't he do a great job!

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Abandoned Places: Loudoun Castle Theme Park

Once billed as "Scotland's Best Family Theme Park," Loudoun Theme Park has been silent for nearly half a decade, many of its attractions sold or removed. The theme park was built behind Loudoun Castle, the interior of which was destroyed by fire in 1941. The chair-o-plane ride, The Plough,

was one of the largest in the world. In 2007, one of the ride operators of The Rat, a roller coaster, went onto the tracks to give the cars a boost. When it started going, rather than let go, he held onto the rear car all the way up to the top of the hill where he finally let go, plunging 80 feet to his death. The park itself became a casualty of the economy in 2010.
All images used Creative Commons License Attribution Non Commercial Share Alike 2.0 Generic. All images by Charles Graham [Clyde_REV / Flickr].

As an added bonus, here are some pictures of another jail: Lorton Reformatory.
Located in Lorton, VA, the prison was built due to an investigation into the horrible conditions of prisons in Washington D.C. It closed in 2001 and is now part of the D.C. Workhouse and Reformatory Historic District. [All photos used by permission from Opacity.